After leaving the school at Makuyuni we drove about 4 miles farther west and turned onto a small dirt path and headed off the road. We stopped about1 km from the road in the shade of an acacia tree and ate our box lunch. The view of the African plain was amazing. As far as you could see in every direction was arid highlands. Tothe west off toward the horizon were the mountains of Ngorongoro region. To the south was the Tarangire National Park. Scattered around the plain were hundreds (maybe thousands) of small collections of huts where Maasai families lived. I didn’t really know what we were doing quite yet (although I think I was told) but after lunch we were going to visit the home of Asante Africa’s scholar Lepilali Nagina. Lepilali was the wonderful young man we had interviewed at Makuyuni school in the morning. When he was a child he had walked the 7km (each way) to Makuyuni to attend primary school. He was now in the front of our Land Cruiser navigating our way across the plain marred only by footpaths and the occasional plot of farmed soil. This land was probably changed very little since its state a few thousand years ago.
Lepilali himself has been a Facebook friend of mine for the last several months. Our friendship has been quite one-sided with me never really knowing what to say in response to his posts or chat questions. It’s more than just the ten hour time difference and the fact we have never met. It’s mostly my fear of the unknowns from his culture. Well – welcome to his world!
After lunch under the shade of the acacia tree (in absolutely perfect weather) our driver, Albert, picked his way through the last km or so to the edge of a collection of a half dozen or so mud huts that were the home of Lepilali’s family. We were greeted by several children and adults and soon thereafter by the elder in the group, Lepilali’s father. He (and the other adult males) were dressed in traditional Maasai robes (with western T-shirts underneath). The family could not have been more welcoming. Chickens (and baby chicks) ran around the area freely. The goats, with the exception of one larger goat with two broken front legs, were enclosed in a traditional pen made of local dead vegetation. Reminder to self: After I pass on, when I come back to life, avoid “goat in Africa.” There was no water in sight. Lepilali tells me that in the dry season the nearest water can be 20 km away. The Mama’s walk to get it.
We were introduced to the family; Lepolili’s father and 2 wives, his grandmother, aunt and cousins. Lepilali’s 4-year-old brother was precious, charming and unafraid of us even thought we never heard him say a word in the 4 hours we were there. (He too loved Smarties.)
The adults spoke the traditional hybrid Maasai language, Ma’a. So, we needed a translator to explain our needs in our filming project. We needed one of the young women to become an actress and play two parts for us. We scouted the area and decided to film the first two scenes inside a very small mud hut inside which there was a small wood fire cooking something in a pot.
We also needed the baby. Camera angles were tight and the lighting was challenging but the young lady was beautiful and played her role with character and charm. As the sun was going down and the lighting edging toward perfection we scouted and selected the location for our next shoot. Another young woman (and the same baby) would star in that scene. It was a beautiful family in a beautiful setting with beautiful light. We had a great story to tell and they were the people whose images would tell it.
We ended the day right at sunset on the plain with a heartwarming session with Lepilali’s father translated 1st from Ma’a to Swahili and then Swahili to English. He thanked us for visiting but, more importantly for representing those who had made his son’s education possible and given his son the opportunities that would have never been available without assistance. (Never been available by a long shot.) He spoke from the heart and was truly grateful for his son and the opportunity Asante Africa has given to him. The future of Lepilali is very bright.
He closed by asking one of his wives to give prayer for us and our safe passage. He apologized for having insufficient time to prepare to slaughter a goat in celebration of our visit. (This was just fine with Elley.) He shook each of our hands in a way you seldom feel – like he really meant it. Two language barriers could not stop the tears from dripping down my face. This was an amazing family in the most challenging of environments – just like they had been living in for thousands of years before their sons had Facebook accounts.
This is a crossroad in time. As President Obama said just a month ago in his trip to Africa, “Africa is rising.” That is true and education is the foundation of that rise. I hope it happens without losing what’s beautiful and special in the traditional culture.
The long drive back to Arusha reminded me that education might be the foundation of Africa’s rising but peace and prosperity weren’t going to break out very far until the roads improved. The Chinese are investing in the Africa infrastructure – it’s not obvious there are shared values in all of this. We all must move forward carefully and thoughtfully. If not, the African people and their culture will be the victims.
This was a very long, hard, emotional day. We left Arusha at 7 am and returned to the hotel before we ate dinner at 9:30pm. Heward drives a tough production crew. As I reread my words I realize how hard these things are to capture in writing. This was truly an amazing experience and a unique glimpse at the real world. I will forget this only just before choosing that “African Goat option.”